Mark Viviano: Ugly Football? Welcome To The NFL
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The Ravens won a home playoff game for the first time in 11 years, yet I’m hearing from many fans that the experience was unsatisfying. I’m reading commentary that the Ravens won “ugly” and that there was nothing “pretty” about their victory over the Houston Texans. Like so many things in life, our reactions are relative to expectations. If you expect your team (any NFL team) to play poetically and perfectly, your watching the wrong game in the wrong league. I’ve long said and have even more reason to reiterate: the NFL is a pig pile. This stuff ain’t pretty, people.
The Texans in many ways outplayed the Ravens. Houston had more more passing yards, more rushing yards, more first downs, better third down efficiency, and their defense throttled Ray Rice while sacking Joe Flacco four times. But (and this is the big difference), the Ravens took advantage of a rookie QB T.J Yates and with three interceptions and a fumble recovery, they won the field position battle and walked off with a win.
Following a hard fought 20-13 victory over the Houston Texans, Ravens coach John Harbuagh said, “This football team won the game no matter what. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but they found a way to win the football game.”
Right you are, coach. And anyone who complains about that or isn’t satisfied with the win has expectations and perceptions of the game/league that are probably based in the pre-salary cap era of glory teams like the Steelers of the 1970s, 49ers of the 80s and Cowboys of the 90s. Back then there were “elite” teams that were loaded and dominant. Not any more. Now it’s a pig pile of imperfection and a fight for survival and some team with warts (probably fewer than the others) will lift the Lombardi Trophy in February and celebrate being the “prettiest” of the ugly. It’s like having a beauty contest on a pig farm: they’re all pigs but a pig is declared the winner. And the Ravens are just as qualified as any.
In fact, I’ll argue (as I have since October) that the Ravens are the prettiest pig in the AFC and a likely Super Bowl team (look it up, I first wrote it on October 10, 2011). For all of their frustrating fits and starts and inconsistency, the Ravens have balance. Their defense is very good and their offense is adequate. Compare that to New England whose offense is off-the-charts good but whose defense is non-existent. It makes for great Patriots highlights when Tom Brady is on the field, but allows for mind-numbing awful defense (like trailing the Miami Dolphins 17-0 before mounting a comeback). New England doesn’t have a single victory to its credit this season against a team with a winning record. Meanwhile, the balanced (but at times frustrating) Ravens are 7-0 against playoff teams. That’s good.
There are four teams still standing in the NFL playoffs, three of the four are “balanced.” Notice the similarities among the Ravens, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers. And notice how the New England Patriots stand out as an odd-ball survivor, similar to Green Bay and New Orleans who didn’t survive (both with dynamite offense but no ability to stop other teams from scoring). Just as the Giants went on the road to beat the top-seed imbalanced Packers, I can see the Ravens going on the road to beat the top-seed imbalanced Patriots. And if the Ravens pull it off, it probably won’t be “pretty.” That’s to be expected. It’s the NFL. A beauty contest on a pig farm. The eventual champion isn’t crowned the best team of all time, just the best among the imperfect collection of this season. And the Ravens have been and continue to be more than qualified.
~posted by Mark Viviano